By Susan A. Neufeld
Mountain Communities – Seven historical lookout towers can be found in the San Bernardino National Forest, offering majestic views, solitude, quiet, heroic vigilance — sending volunteers to the top to help protect us all and become the eyes of the forest.
FOREST SERVICE LOOKOUTS
The U.S. forest Service has been sending lookouts to the top of these 7 historical towers for over 100 years. These lookouts are volunteers — trained to spot wildland fires during the fire season and welcome guests to lookouts–Strawberry Peak, Keller Peak, Butler Peak, Morton Peak, Black Mountain, Red Mountain and Tahquitz Peak– from May through November.
Strawberry Peak – Located off Hwy 18 in the San Bernardino Mountains near the communities of Twin Peaks and Rimforest (elev. 6,135 ft.). It gets its name from a strawberry farm owned by Bart Smithson from the 1870’s-80’s. The 30 foot tower you see today was built in 1934 and is the second tower to be built there.
Keller Peak – Though not the first lookout built in the San Bernardino National Forest, is the oldest remaining original tower. It is located three miles east of Running Springs, at an elevation of 7,882 feet. The lookout road and peak are named for Alley Carlin Keller, born in San Bernardino in 1868, who at one time was an employee of the Forest Service. You can view two memorial plaques at Keller Peak lookout. The first designates the 1926 built tower as a historic landmark. The second marks the spot where a B-26 bomber crashed
December 30, 1941. Some of the wreckage is still visible.
Butler Peak – Butler Peak, at an elevation of 8,535 ft, is located in the San Bernardino Mountains — between the town of Green Valley Lake and Fawnskin. Butler Peak was named after George E. Butler, a local politician and Bear Valley property owner. In 1970, lookout staff spotted the devastating Bear Fire that destroyed 49 homes and burned 53,000 acres from a point just south of Big Bear Dam to the San Bernardino Valley.
Morton Peak – This lookout is located off Hwy 38, overlooking the cities of Yucaipa and Mentone (elevation 4,624 ft.) with spectacular views of Mill Creek leading up to Forest Falls as well as surrounding views of Mt. Palomar, Keller Meadows, Keller Cliffs and the San Bernardino Valley. Originally built in 1934, the lookout was destroyed by the Morton Fire of 1959.
Black Mountain – Is located in the San Jacinto Mountains at and elevation of 7,772 ft. Built in 1926 Black Mountain was the third lookout built in the San Bernardino Forest. In 1935, the original lookout was disassembled and rebuilt on Barton Peak. The lookout that sits on Black Mountain today was completed in 1962.
Red Mountain – Red Mountain, elevation 4,573 feet, is located in the southern part of the San Bernardino National forest southeast of Hemet. Red Mountain, named for the distinctive red granite on its peak, overlooks parts of the town of Anza, the Cahuilla Indian Reservation, Reed Valley, Bautista Canyon and has a great view of the new Diamond Valley Reservoir. This is the youngest lookout, originally constructed in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and reopened in 1999.
Tahquitz Peak – Tahquitz Peak was a working fire lookout until the end of the 1993 fire season, and then was reopened October 1998 and staffed by volunteers. At its elevation of 8,828 feet, it is the highest lookout in the San Bernardino National Forest. It is also the forest’s longest continuously operated station, serving some 77 years, and is the only lookout located inside a Wilderness area. Tahquitz was actually built entirely by hand, as all power tools are prohibited in the San jacinto Wilderness.
JOINING THE HOST PROGRAM
The host program “helps preserve the lookouts, increase public awareness, and creates a desire among visitors to conserve and help care for the public lands.” The Southern California Mountains Foundation manages the Fire Lookout Host Program. For information on becoming a host visit SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA MOUNTAINS FOUNDATION on line.